August 1997 Vol. 9, No.8 (C)
AFTERMATH OF THE COUP
I. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS 2
To the Cambodian Government 3
To the International Community 4
II. BACKGROUND TO THE COUP 5
III. THE JULY 5-6 COUP 7
IV. CUSTODIAL DEATHS OF FUNCINPEC OFFICIALS 8
V. ARRESTS AND INTIMIDATION 10
VI. REFUGEES 11
VII. THE RESPONSE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY 12
A month after Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's coup, Cambodia bears little resemblance to the society envisioned in the Paris accords of 1991 that laid the framework for an end to conflict and a United Nations peacebuilding effort on an unprecedented scale.1 The tension that permeated the country's political life over the past four years - since United Nations-supervised elections installed a fractious coalition government in Phnom Penh - has erupted into a protracted campaign of intimidation by Hun Sen's forces. Between thirty and forty members of the United National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia (Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendent, Neutre, Pacifique, et Cooperatif, FUNCINPEC) were killed in custody by forces of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) in the first days of the coup, and recent findings by human rights investigators indicate that the extrajudicial executions are continuing. In addition, dozens of FUNCINPEC army officers remain in detention or unaccounted for, while over thirty parliamentarians and journalists have fled the country. In the face of human rights criticism, Hun Sen has demanded an apology from the United Nations Centre for Human Rights (UNCHR) in Phnom Penh and the replacement of its staff, accusing the UNCHR of falsely reporting executions, when in fact, both political executions and torture on the part of Hun Sen's CPP forces have been painstakingly documented. And in a development that more than anything else symbolizes the resumption of civil war and the end to any semblance of peace, some 30,000 Cambodian refugees fled to Thailand to escape fighting between Hun Sen's army and FUNCINPEC-led troops.
The international community has responded to the coup and its aftermath with policies that have wavered between firmness and appeasement. Japan, Cambodia's largest donor, effectively suspended aid by recalling its aid workers after the coup. However, the aid workers recently returned, and Japanese aid has resumed based on the Cambodian government's expressed intent to comply with a four-point set of conditions.2 One of those conditions, "assuring fundamental human rights and political freedom," most certainly has not been met. The United States continues to suspend non-humanitarian aid to Cambodia, but its embassy in Phnom Penh has refused sanctuary and provided minimal assistance to Cambodians facing political persecution. China has given full support to Hun Sen. And the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while postponing Cambodia's membership in the body and playing a constructive mediating role, has effectively recognized Foreign Minister Ung Huot as first prime minister in place of the deposed Prince Norodom Ranariddh, thus giving legitimacy to Hun Sen's seizure of power.
The lack of international agreement, let alone coordination of policies, on foreign aid, human rights, refugees, and recognition of the post-coup government, has not only allowed Hun Sen to consolidate his authority, but it has greatly magnified the insecurity of political opposition members and their families. There appears to be a growing international consensus on the desirability of National Assembly elections, which by prior agreement between the two prime ministers, were to be held in May 1998. The destruction of opposition party infrastructures, however, as well as the exile or internal displacement of their leadership and many party workers, the looting of their offices, and a pervasive climate of fear and intimidation all militate against the prospect that such elections can be free and fair. Human Rights Watch has interviewed many of the parliamentarians now in exile in Bangkok and the United States, all of whom have insisted on accountability and security guarantees before they would consider returning to Cambodia. Unless those conditions are demonstrably met, elections would do little more than legitimatethe de facto one-party rule that has emerged since the coup, since the opposition parties in Phnom Penh have already installed pro-Hun Sen factions in leadership positions. The lack of either an election law or an independent election commission in Cambodia further weakens the possibility that a May election can be fair.
It would be a grave mistake for the international community to see elections in and of themselves as the solution to human rights violations. Elections will have no meaning unless the Cambodian government ends its persecution of the opposition and holds its forces accountable for human rights violations during and since the coup. The international community should give unambiguous and forceful support to the beleaguered UNCHR field office, ensuring that its staff is protected, its budget augmented, and its tenure in Cambodia secured for the indefinite future. It should ensure the safety of opposition members, their families, and all others at risk by affording them sanctuary, visas, and asylum as needed. It should continue to withhold budgetary support for the Cambodian government until human rights violations have ceased, those in exile feel safe to return, and, at a minimum, those responsible for political executions during the coup are brought to justice. If, those steps having been accomplished, the elections go forward, the international community should support the establishment of institutions, such as an independent election commission, that would provide for a meaningful electoral process.
In light of the above, Human Rights Watch calls on the Cambodian government and the international community to take the following measures:
To the Cambodian Government:
C Immediately halt the continuing extrajudicial executions, arrests, and harassment of opposition party members and military personnel. The government should authorize independent investigations, with broad-based and meaningful NGO participation, into all cases of extrajudicial execution and torture documented by the UNCHR and international human rights groups, and apprehend and prosecute those identified as responsible.
C End all harassment and threats against the UNCHR field office in Cambodia and provide explicit guarantees that the UNCHR can continue to operate without restriction.
C Eliminate private armies and ensure that only recognized government military and police forces have authorization to use lethal force.
C Rescind the arrest warrant for Prince Ranariddh and ensure that the prince and other members of the National Assembly now living in exile are able to return to Cambodia without fear and retain their seats in the Assembly. Returning parliamentarians and politicians should be subject to prosecution for violations of Cambodian law only if the law itself is not in violation of international human rights standards and if public and fully transparent inquiries conducted by impartial bodies uncover reasonable grounds to proceed with legal action. The government should also reinstate purged diplomats, civil servants and political appointees.
C Establish an independent election commission, which would include representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from ASEAN countries with extensive election-monitoring experience. The commission should be empowered to draft an election law, for submission to the National Assembly, assess the conditions for holding free and fair elections in May 1998, and serve a monitoring function if and when elections are held. The government should provide guarantees of safety and freedom of speech, movement and association, as well as equal access to state-owned media, for all political parties and candidates.
C Provide passports to Cambodian nationals who wish to leave Cambodia in accordance with the internationally-recognized right to freedom of movement and the right to leave one's own country.
To the International Community:
C ASEAN has played a positive and leading role in promoting a negotiated settlement in Cambodia. It would be in keeping with that constructive role for ASEAN to:
C Continue to delay Cambodia's membership in ASEAN and withhold private investment in Cambodia, until the Cambodian government has complied with the recommendations outlined above.
C Provide financial support for the establishment of an independent election commission, as outlined in the recommendation mentioned above to the Cambodian government, provided that the government has ceased its ongoing intimidation of the opposition and held its forces accountable for human rights abuses during and since the coup. Such a step would be in keeping with ASEAN's August 11 offer to aid Cambodia's election process. ASEAN, the donor countries, and the United Nations could further strengthen such a commission by basing assistance and diplomatic support for elections on the commission's determination that conditions are sufficiently open to allow for a free and fair polling process.
C Ensure the provision of humanitarian parole to refugees fleeing political persecution in Cambodia and facilitate the safe passage of refugees to destinations outside the region.
C The government of Thailand should resume issuing visas to Cambodian nationals through its embassy in Phnom Penh and refrain from involuntary repatriation of refugees. Any repatriation of refugees must comply with the obligation of non-refoulement and the Conclusions of the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Programme.
C The United States special envoy, Desaix Anderson, should press for implementation by the Cambodian government of the measures outlined above. He should consult with Cambodian human rights NGOs, the UNCHR field office in Cambodia, and with the Union of Cambodian Democrats, a coalition of parliamentarians exiled since the coup.
C Diplomatic representatives should meet with Ung Huot only in the latter's capacity as foreign minister.
C The United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, and European Union countries should instruct their embassies in Phnom Penh and Bangkok to provide - on a case by case basis - sanctuary, visas, and political asylum to Cambodian nationals at risk of political persecution. The United States should publicly reverse a July 28 statement by its embassy in Bangkok that it would not accept political asylum applications from Cambodian nationals.
C Donor countries should continue to provide humanitarian and development assistance to Cambodia through NGOs but should suspend all bilateral and multilateral aid pending compliance by the Cambodian government with the measures outline above. Members of the donor consultative group should also establish a special working group to coordinate aid policies and review the performance of the Cambodian government in meeting the aforementioned conditions. Japan should, at a minimum, insist on the Cambodian government's full and prior compliance with all four of its conditions for the resumption of aid.
C Donor countries should provide emergency funding for the UNCHR field office in Cambodia to enable it to expand its human rights monitoring and investigation activity. The United Nations should exempt the UNCHR field office in Cambodia from the current recruitment freeze, authorize the transfer of all funds presently available for the Centre, and allow the Centre to promptly replace and expand its staff.
C The United States should release the report of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concerning the March 30, 1997 grenade attack on the Khmer Nation Party (KNP) in Phnom Penh.
C The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government of Thailand should jointly ensure that humanitarian assistance, including adequate medical care and food supplies, is delivered to Cambodians who have fled to Thailand following the recent fighting between FUNCINPEC and CPP forces near the border. The UNHCR should also establish facilities at camps in Thailand for individual refugee status determination.
C The United Nations General Assembly should issue a resolution in accordance with the findings and recommendations of Thomas Hammarberg, the special representative of the secretary-general for human rights in Cambodia, following his mission to Cambodia.
1 The information in this report is based on daily telephone conversations with human rights sources based in Cambodia and interviews conducted in Bangkok, supplemented by diplomatic communications made available to Human Rights Watch as well as press reports.
2 The four conditions are: "(a) duly observing the Paris Agreements on Cambodia, (b) respecting the results of the 1993 elections, (c) assuring fundamental human rights and political freedom, and (d) holding free and fair elections next May." Statement issued by the Japanese Foreign Ministry on July 28, following a meeting between Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda and United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Kuala Lumpur, in a translation provided to Human Rights Watch by the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C.